The two oldest laws in the world come from the Middle East. These two sets of laws still impact our cultures today.
In Babylon, now modern-day Iraq, King Hammurabi had a code of laws engraved on tablets. There are hundreds of laws he had written down around 1800 B.C. A stela (gigantic stone with carvings) containing large portions of this code was found in Iran by archeologists, and eventually the stela made its way to the Louvre, in Paris, France. Here are a representative:
The Code of Hammurabi
- If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge's bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgement.(#5)
- If any one steal the minor son of another, he shall be put to death. (#14)
- If any one find runaway male or female slaves in the open country and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver.(#17)
- If the slave will not give the name of the master, the finder shall bring him to the palace; a further investigation must follow, and the slave shall be returned to his master.(#18)
- If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.(#21)
- If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.(#22)
- If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father's house, and sleep with her and be surprised, this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless. (#130)
- If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.(#195)
- If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.(#196)
- If he break another man's bone, his bone shall be broken.(#197)
The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus, the second book of the Pentateuch, part of the Torah (or Old Testament). The text is Exodus 20:2-17. These commandments are described within the text as given directly from God to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
There are similarities between the prologue, body, and epilogue, demonstrating that this form of the law was known in that culture and time. There are thousands of fragments of the Torah found all over the Middle East, including the major find of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 indicating the accuracy with which these laws and the text of the Torah have been handed down over thousands of years.
The Ten Commandments
- "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me..."
Codified law has been in existence ever since these two law codes began. Many law codes in western nations, including the United States, have been developed with similar underlying philosophy: there is certain behavior required for civilized behavior for the good of society. The ancient culture of the Middle East still impacts western nations to this day.